Lies Are the Health of the State

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by Anthony Gregory: Liberty
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Lies
the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American
History
, by Andrew P. Napolitano (Nashville: Thomas Nelson,
2010), 349 pages.

Americans
take for granted that politicians lie. You know one is lying when
his lips are moving, so goes the joke. Even citizens snookered by
one politician’s lies will quickly acknowledge that the other
side lies.

“Bush
Lied, People Died,” says the bumper sticker from a few years
back, but many Republicans refused to concede that their president
would knowingly deceive the public into war. “You lie!”
shouted Rep. Joe Wilson at a frustrated President Obama on the question
of health care for illegal immigrants – an accusation that
was celebrated by the TEA Party Right, but left-liberals found the
charge preposterous, even seditious.

Of course
governments lie and always have. The state cannot maintain its grip
on the people through violence alone – propaganda is an essential
element in governance. Without a public ideology of statism, Leviathan
cannot rule with a free hand. Such fictional dystopias as depicted
in Orwell’s 1984 rely on lies outrageously brazen. Real-life
totalitarian regimes deceive the world about the conditions endured
by their people. The USSR’s Potemkin Village was but a microcosm
of this essentially inevitable tendency of total states to employ
window dressing to obscure their killing fields. In America, police
are trained to lie to lull suspects into self-incrimination. Presidents
have lied to whip the nation into a war frenzy for well over a century.
Even when politicians believe their own lies, government itself
utilizes falsehoods and disinformation to expand its power.

What a treat
that Andrew P. Napolitano, Fox News legal analyst and a libertarian
anomaly within the legal community, has provided us with a solid
book on the U.S. government’s many lies. Lies the Government
Told You takes on every sacred cow of the establishment –
left, right, and center. Unlike the partisan and predictable sensationalism
we get from most commentators, Napolitano exposes lies regardless
of political ideology, partisan loyalties, political correctness,
American exceptionalism, or any of the other trappings we expect
from the talking heads.

Founding
myths

Understandably,
Americans distrust government claims, given their tradition of anti-government
skepticism. But typically, a narrative will uncover lies associated
with either conservative or liberal readings of history, while ignoring
the others. For example, many conservative historians idolize the
Founding Fathers, champion U.S. wars, and timidly criticize leftist
economic myths. The Left, in turn, will criticize the Founders,
question some U.S. wars, but then adopt absurdities about how America’s
free market caused the Great Depression and every other ill in U.S.
history.

Napolitano
will have none of that. He tells it like it is. The Founding Fathers?
Hypocrites of course – for all their talk about all men’s
being created equal, “four of the first five American presidents,
including the still-beloved George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
and James Madison, owned slaves.” Washington comes off as a
particularly cruel taskmaster. He “raffled off the slaves of
those bankrupt slave-holders who owed him money [and even] hired
a dentist to extract nine teeth from the mouths of his slaves, and
implant them into his own mouth.”

At the same
time, an unqualified resentment toward all for which these men stood
neglects the ideals of liberty for which they did, at times, stand
courageously. Napolitano, unlike the politically correct Left, pulls
no punches but still has the nuance appropriate to historical study.
He credits Jefferson for pushing for the anti-slavery Northwest
Ordinance and struggling with the greatest ethical dilemma of his
time, and praises Benjamin Franklin for his pioneering anti-slavery
work.

The abolitionist
William Lloyd Garrison is favorably cited for his opinion “that
the Constitution was actually a pro-slavery document.”
But Napolitano does not agree with the typical reading of Abraham
Lincoln on the question of slavery: “Lincoln opposed slavery’s
expansion into America’s new territories not based on any moral
duty to uphold the Natural Law, or the need to right inherent wrongs.
Instead, Lincoln simply wanted to keep African-Americans out of
the West and keep the white and black races separate.”

The conventional
view of the Founders and Lincoln has allowed for an elevation of
those men to a near-religious place in many Americans’ hearts,
which is troubling for a people supposedly dedicated to liberty
and distrust of government. As for the myth that Americans to this
day enjoy “inalienable rights” to property and the fruits
of their labor, Napolitano cites the Kelo decision, upholding
Connecticut eminent domain in behalf of private interests.

The idea
that a city government, or any government for that matter, can
justify a taking of one’s private property to give to another
private entity for the local government’s economic benefit
is one that utterly obscures the distinction between takings for
private and public use.

The courts
have likewise undercut contractual liberty: “[Like] our right
to private property, our natural right to contract, as well as the
rights defined in the Contracts Clause of the Constitution (Article
I, Section 10, Clause 1), have been repeatedly violated by the
government,” as when the Supreme Court upheld “a Minnesota
law prohibiting banks from foreclosing upon mortgages that were
in default” in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell
(1934).

The judiciary
and constitutional rights

The judiciary
is often hailed as being separate from the government’s political
vagaries and coercive nature, but Napolitano kills that myth. Far
from being like “umpires” or folks who dispassionately
follow the Constitution, judges are political beings with biases
and human failings. During the Sonya Sotomayor confirmation hearings,
conservatives feared that she would let her ethnic and ideological
concerns trump judicial objectivity. They often accuse liberal judges
of trying to make the law, but that hardly began with Obama’s
judicial appointments, or indeed with any of the liberal judges
of the modern era: the real precedent was set with Marbury v.
Madison in 1803, handed down by the revered Chief Justice John
Marshall, which expanded the effective reach of the Court in determining
questions of constitutionality. Marshall “clearly engaged in
a form of policymaking or ‘activism.’” On the other
hand, “There have been many Supreme Court opinions throughout
history in which the Court should have acted in a more activist
way, but failed to stand up to government abuse.” In Plessy
v. Ferguson, the Court upheld governmentally mandated racial
segregation.

At the same
time, true judicial activism does exist, as in Roe v. Wade,
where the “seven-justice majority … blatantly legislated
from the bench. “A less popular, yet exceedingly ridiculous,
example of judicial activism occurred in the case of Missouri
v. Jenkins,” where U.S. District Judge Russell Clark “ordered
[Kansas City] to increase property taxes on its citizens by 91
percent!” A court of appeals panel upheld that order.

Local governments
have long undermined the ability of blacks and minorities to vote.
But judicial activism has also played a role in hijacking the vote,
most notably in Bush v. Gore in 2000, which Napolitano calls
“an assault on federalism and freedom…. [The] conservatives
acted out of character. Until Bush v. Gore, neither the Supreme
Court, nor any other federal court, had ever enforced a uniformity
rule in the counting of ballots.” Napolitano attributes some
of that decision to “the justices’ political motivation,”
describing the close ties Justices Scalia and O’Connor had
to Republican politicians and the Bush family.

Finally, we
are told that every vote counts, but that is an oversimplification
at best. Before the Seventeenth Amendment, senators were elected
by state legislators.

Personal
liberties

But surely
some rights are treated reverently? Napolitano would beg to differ.
Freedom of speech is “invaluable to our personal autonomy because
it removes constraints on our ability to think what we want to believe.”
It is a natural right that “preceded the existence of the United
States.” But politicians have uprooted this sacrosanct right.
Under Woodrow Wilson, opponents of his war faced up to “twenty
years in jail for the utterance of government-prohibited political
speech” through legislation upheld by the Supreme Court.
Filmmaker Robert Goldstein was “sentenced to ten years
in prison” for his movie about the American Revolution, depicting
Great Britain as the enemy. Because Britain was an ally in World
War I, even such patriotic films became a federal offense. Since
World War I, political agitators have been jailed for sedition,
adult movie-makers have been persecuted under obscenity laws, and
the Fairness Doctrine was used to effectively silence radio commentators.

The right
to bear arms has not fared much better. The first people targeted
(other than blacks) were the poor – “The core of the National
Firearms Act was the price people were expected to pay. In order
to register a shotgun, payment of $200 was required … equal to
$3,056.11 at today’s values.” Later, in 1968, “came
the Gun Control Act and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets
Act” and numerous other local, state, and federal gun restrictions.
“Guns are used defensively more than two million times per
year,” but we are moving toward a political culture where only
the police have a right to bear arms.

In terms of
due-process rights, Napolitano discusses pretrial hearings, the
treatment of the accused in jail as though they are convicted criminals,
holes in the insanity defense, civil commitments, guilt by association,
prosecutor and police deception, and court precedent that an innocent
man “cannot appeal on the basis that he has proof of his actual
innocence” as stark examples that Americans are not always
treated as innocent until proven guilty. Recent DNA analysis “shows
how indisputably false is the idea that our system protects the
innocent.” The Fourth Amendment, meanwhile, has been obliterated
by the secret courts set up by FISA in 1978 (“between the years
of 1979 to 2007,” this “rubber stamp … rejected only
nine of the 25,361 warrant applications submitted to it”)
and the post–9/11 National Security Letters (“the NSL is in
essence a search warrant, but one that requires no probable cause
or judicial oversight and that allows for any federal agent to request
any and all of your personal records”). There is also a terrific
chapter on the myth that “we don’t torture,” exploring
detention policy after 9/11 and its threats to habeas corpus.

How about
the right to control one’s own body? That has been made a joke
by everything from deadly FDA regulations that deprive dying Americans
of life-saving drugs to petty bans on transfats. The drug war conspicuously
challenges the concept of self-ownership. Napolitano provides a
chapter on drug policy and elsewhere shows that RICO statutes, wartime
hysteria, and other statist favorites have allowed for constitutional
protections to be diminished under special circumstances.

America’s
supposed free market

We often hear
that a government program is only “temporary” – another
lie demolished by Napolitano, who cites income taxation and withholding
(“when the government takes from us, it is just as immoral
as any other type of burglar”), rent control (“originally
meant only to help wives and children while husbands and fathers
were fighting World War II, it has become an enduring and harmful
legacy”), and Social Security (“thievery at the highest
possible level”) as examples of programs lasting far beyond
their advocates’ promises. Napolitano takes aim at FEMA, an
agency with “no lawful basis” that bungled its response
to Katrina, as a typical instance showing that “I’m from
the government and I’m here to help you” is often without
much truth.

Napolitano
also takes on an issue the mainstream neglects: the monopoly control
of money and its systematic debasement for political ends. The Federal
Reserve has turned our money “from gold to toilet paper”
and, despite what the Fed’s champions of 1913 promised, is
not effectively controlled by Congress but has become a “legally
sanctioned cartel” responsible for financial panics and massively
regressive inflation. “In essence, Congress struck a deal with
the private bankers who would run the Federal Reserve, granting
them absolute power over the control of America’s money …
in exchange for infinitely deep pockets.”

One chapter
explores the myth that “America has a free market,” addressing
the housing boom and bust that occurred in an atmosphere of heavy
regulation and subsidy. “Yet, even with all the laws and regulations
around, the government continues to blame deregulation and the ‘free’
market,” despite the fact “that we have seventy-three
thousand pages of detailed government [economic] regulations.”
Then came the finance and auto bailouts, after which “the lesson
learned was that as long as you did not take responsibility for
your actions, then you would receive more money.”

War

Napolitano
devotes a chapter to the vital topic of wartime propaganda and lies.
There is the seminal example of the Lusitania sinking –
“President Woodrow Wilson wanted innocent American deaths to
justify politically American entry into” World War I. But that
“was not the first time, nor the last” that America saw
such propaganda. “In 1898, President McKinley used the sinking
of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor.” A most exciting
section discusses the “eight-point plan” used to lure
Japan into firing the first shot in 1941: “The United States
got word of the Pearl Harbor attack in January 1941, eleven
months prior to the actual event,” which was “provoked,
undoubtedly anticipated, and ardently hoped for by the privately
lying President who publicly condemned it. The infamy was his.”

Years later,
in 1964, the Pentagon jumped on the Gulf of Tonkin incident to escalate
U.S. intervention in Vietnam. “A 2005 NSA report revealed,
however, that not only was there no North Vietnamese attack on August
4, but there may not have even been any North Vietnamese boats in
the area.” Napolitano extends his analysis to the current day:
“President George W. Bush’s use of deception to trick
Congress and the American people into authorizing the Iraq War should
go down as one of the deadliest, yet most creative marketing jobs
in the history of the world.”

For government
to expand and abuse its power, the public must put up with it. The
ideology of statism is the key factor in allowing for America’s
bloated welfare-warfare state. To chip away at that ideology, we
must show that so much at the core of America’s civic statist
religion is built on lies and deception. Lies the Government
Told You is an excellent introduction to these lies, on a wide
range of topics, and always with a focus on individual liberty as
the moral foundation of a just society.

Reprinted
from The Future of Freedom Foundation.

December
13, 2010

Anthony
Gregory [send him mail]
is a research analyst at the Independent
Institute
. He
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage
for more articles and personal information.

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